How MSF is fighting COVID-19 in Brazil
Brazil is now the epicenter of the global COVID-19 pandemic. MSF teams are focused on the country’s north, where a historical lack of material and human health care resources is having devastating consequences.
In mid-March we started activities in Rondônia’s capital, Porto Velho, with medical support and training in five emergency care units. Such facilities now keep patients, from moderate to critical, for long periods, as overcrowded hospitals cannot accommodate them.
In March, we began activities in the state’s second city, Ji-Paraná, where the local 75-bed COVID-19 facility is overcrowded, understaffed, and poorly supplied.
In Roraima, we provided training to health professionals in Pacaraima and Caracaraí to improve care for patients.
Doctors Without Borderd/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams are working to improve medical care for Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers as well as local communities. The crisis in neighboring Venezuela has generated the largest human displacement in Latin America’s recent history. Most Venezuelans entering Brazil arrive in Roraima, the least-developed state in the country, putting an additional strain on the already precarious public services there.
Our teams have also been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the city of São Paulo and in the states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso do Sul. Brazil is now the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its health system has been pushed to the brink of collapse by surging case numbers.
MSF returned to Brazil in 2018, to address the health needs of Venezuelans and the local population in the state capital, Boa Vista. Our work includes health promotion activities and mental health sessions in official shelters, which are home to around 6,000 migrants and refugees. We also carry out water and sanitation activities, such as the distribution of hygiene kits.
In 2019, we expanded our activities to include the provision of basic medical services and antenatal care in two health facilities run by the Boa Vista city government. By the end of that year, our teams had conducted almost 7,580 outpatient consultations, including nearly 500 antenatal consultations, and reached over 18,000 people through health promotion activities. MSF was the only organization offering mental health assistance to Venezuelans in Roraima—with over 3,500 people benefiting from individual or group mental health sessions in 2019.
In 2020, MSF responded to the spread of COVID-19 by treating patients in 19 hospitals and supporting an additional 30 health facilities in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Boa Vista, and Manaus. We also ran activities in remote, hard-to-reach areas, including São Gabriel da Cachoeira and Tefé—both a few days’ boat journey upriver from the state capital.
Our activities in São Paulo included screening homeless people and other vulnerable groups for the coronavirus and conducting health promotion in the community. MSF teams also visited shelters to provide health and basic IPC education to health professionals. In Boa Vista, Roraima state, an MSF team visited informal shelters where migrants and refugees from Venezuela have gathered, providing hygiene and physical distancing education, expanding access to water, and distributing hygiene kits.
In January 2021, there was a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in Manaus that caused the local health system to collapse. By early April, intensive care units were full in 21 out of 27 of Brazil's capitals, and widespread shortages of supplies needed to care for patients suffering from COVID-19. MSF teams have now worked in eight Brazilian states and supported more than 50 health facilities, focusing on caring for the most vulnerable members of the community and supporting health systems that that do not have the capacity to provide care to the massive numbers of Brazilians who are ill and dying of COVID-19.